The Muskie senior girls' volleyball team is getting used to what it means to be the cream of the crop.
The top-ranked Muskies used a complete team effort to claim a 3-0 win over the second-place Dryden Eagles in the NorWOSSA final on Monday afternoon at Fort High.
It was the second straight league crown for the black-and-gold, who also booked a return trip to the NWOSSAA championship this weekend in Thunder Bay.
“It was a sound effort today for the entire team,” Muskie coach Duane Roen lauded after the championship game on Monday.
“Some of the players that we normally count on to make those big plays, it just wasn't happening, so we were able to regroup and some kids that needed to today stepped up and made the difference.”
A back and forth first set saw the Muskies finally pull away at 6-3 early on and they never trailed again en route to a 25-19 win.
Then after trailing 7-5 by one point in the second set, the Muskies regrouped by ending on a 20-11 run to take it by a 25-18 count.
“In the first two sets we struggled a little bit at the start to try to get our rhythm,” Roen admitted.
"And then we kind of walked away with those games, kinda the way it's been all season. But there have been a couple of instances against Dryden [this season] where they've found a way to come back at us and they got in rhythm where they had their best passer . . . we were hitting to their best passer every time and they were setting to, what I would say, was their second-best left-side hitter who was finding a way to break through our seam or break through our block.
“So they were developing this rhythm that we had to get refocused, and then we had to steal as many points as we could to try to bridge that gap,” he noted.
The third and final set also saw the Muskies in an early struggle, trading points early on against the Eagles before trailing by as much as 18-11.
But the Muskies regrouped yet again and fought back to get it knotted once again at 20-20.
After trading a pair of points, a missed serve by the Eagles put the Muskies back ahead 23-22.
But the Muskies' next serve attempt also went out of bounds to even things up yet again.
Jamie Spencer then unleashed a kill past the Eagles' right side to make it 24-23 for the Muskies.
But Dryden came back with a kill shot of their own to knot it up again.
The Eagles' next serve attempt went long, setting up championship point for Fort High.
After a timeout, the Muskies' blocked the Eagles tip attempt that they couldn't return to give the Muskies a second straight NorWOSSA title.
“It was one of those high school volleyball games where the nerves set in while you're in the last five points,” Roen said.
"We practiced those five-point games every day, with mixed results, and today the results worked out in our favour. I'm really proud of the way the team has played all season.
“We've had a really sound season," he enthused. "Our point spreads against other teams have been impressive all year long, a couple of hiccups along the way, but that's the way high school volleyball is.”
The Muskies now advance to NWOSSAA for the second straight year, where they'll face the host Westgate Tigers who claimed the Thunder Bay high school title.
Fort High swept the series 2-0 against the St. Ignatius Falcons and advanced to OFSAA in 2019.
The best-of-three series this year against the Tigers will run Friday and Saturday in Thunder Bay.
“We played Westgate once in December at their home tournament, we played three sets and we won the first two and lost the third one,” Roen recalled.
"We played them again in Thunder Bay a couple of weekends ago and we beat them in the round robin and then we played them in the semifinals and beat them again.
“They haven't been able to get more than 18 points against us. They got a good team,” he stressed.
“They got a couple of players that when they're playing really well, it's kinda like when we're playing against Dryden, they've got a good team, they got a couple of players that are really sound. [We're] looking forward to playing Westgate, I've played them before at NWOSSAA a few times over the years.”
As for the third-ranked Muskie junior squad, they saw their season come to an end with a loss to the second ranked Sioux Lookout Warriors in Monday morning's semifinals.
The Muskies had finished the regular season with a 4-5 record and were denied the chance for a third-straight NorWOSSA crown.
Sioux Lookout advanced to face the top-ranked Eagles in the NorWOSSA final that afternoon, where Dryden claimed gold with a 3-1 win.
The set scores were 25-22, 25-19, 9-25, and 25-20.
There is no NWOSSAA at the junior level.